tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 6, 2017 6:00am-6:31am PST
good evening from los angeles i'm tavis smiley, this year's academy awards may be all about la la land, one of the nominees feature is helping to diversify the ceremony. i am not your negro reveals the unfinished final book of james baldwin to a modern lens. the director is rowell peck who joins us tonight. he'll tell us about his own life escaping papa dock and growing up in the republic of congo and the bureau of brooklyn. glad you've joined us, director raul peck coming up right now.
and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. i am pleased to be joined by raul peck director of i am not your negro. i love saying that. i am not your negro. the acclaimed film narrated by samuel l. jackson reveals the unfinished final book of james baldwin which is profoundly relevant in the current political climate. it includes baldwin's appearance
on another host about one of my favorites, dick cabot, before we get this conversation start, let's look at that conversation for a taste of this literary icon. >> i don't know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me. that doesn't matter. i'm not in their unions. against black people, i know the real estate lobbies keep me in the ghetto. i don't know if born board of education hates black people, but the textbooks that they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to. you want me to risk myself, my life, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me this is america which i have never seen. [ applause ] >> i have always been a james baldwin fan, but my respect for him grew exponentially when i saw this brilliant masterpiece of a documentary that you've done. my favorite of the year.
but i loved it because there was so much footage of baldwin that i had never seen. you see that clip and that clip right there says it all. there are so many black folk today in this era of political correctness who are afraid to speak the truth to the powerless, much less the powerful. we've had this debate about these negros running into to see donald trump, they ain't saying nothing to him while they in there. it is timely in this moment. here's baldwin talking to dick cab bot. i mean, that is out on master television. what did you make when you started coming through all of these clips? >> i knew a a lot about baldwin already. i read him early on in my life. he structured my brain, he teached me how to construct hollywood, how to watch the news, how to be a man. and when i see the footage, i knew some of it, but the more we
were working on those archive, it was like i would have loved to include everything. you know, i could have done kind of like some others. and but the film had to be the ultimate baldwin. because as you probably know, we were losing track of him. somewhere pushing him outside as has been all the baldwin is probably one of the greatest writer of this country. black or white. and i knew how important those words were. i knew how they changed my life. and i felt it was necessary that the new generation get also an opportunity to be confronted with those worlds. and by the way, not only the black population, but also the white population. because he's speaking to them as well. what he called the white majority. and because they are part of the problem, if not the main part of the problem because we have
always seen the struggle as only responsibility. we have to defy the power, but baldwin say no, no, you invented something, you invented racism, how come we are the only one who have to get rid of it? you have your responsibility and take your share as well. >> i want to get to the documentary, specifically i have questions about how you made this thing. to the point you made a moment ago, what do you think, why do you think baldwin was starting to fade to black so to speak and now even before it comes out, now everybody's quoting baldwin. baldwin's like, this moment that baldwin is experiencing right now sort of reminds me of the malcolm x had, it was disappearing from our conscienceness, and everybody is quoting and malcolm has a renaissance.
why was baldwin being pushed to the margins? >> for many reason, one being that baldwin himself was broken man after all of those killings, those -- and he was very isolated politically. and the other aspect is that they kill all the little leadership of the people he grew up with. you know, not only martin luther king, not only malcolm x, but all the leadership of the black panther, they were in prison. others were sent in exile, et cetera. and they did one thing that is very intelligent, is to build up monuments to give us black history month. martin luther king day to put statues in front of us as if everything is okay now and we got lazy. and there have also been what i would call a black lee who also somehow got lazy and forgot that the struggle had to continue
until everybody can profit of those changes. and so that we have now a younger generation in the streets that basically have to learn everything from zero, basically. that's when i felt voices like baldwin. voices like the late martin luther king. the last two years of his life. the last year of malcolm x. those speeches you have hardly access to them. and this is what we need to bring back. and baldwin is key to that because he's probably the only one who has that title of universal analysis of the system and all history. all common history. there are not two different history, it's the same. we all have a responsibility in that. and obligatory. you need to know baldwin. it's part of of your general cultures. it's part of your general, you
know, to be a citizen, to know your history is also to know baldwin. >> so you were a citizen of haiti along there, i know that in '61, i think you had to escape with your parents. yeah, that regime. to go to congo. we'll come back perhaps in a second. but you start a reading in baldwin you said early. about 15 or so. >> yeah. before college. what were you seeing on the page? what were you connecting to as a young man? >> let me give you an example. like many youngster in my anyone even in haiti, i grew up watching american films. you know, jon wayne, doris day, musical, and for me, that was the world. that was what we would be even though there were no black face on the screen or they were savages, but somehow it was a view of the world.
it was the dominant cinema everywhere in the world. and when i went to congo to rejoin my father who had left one year before ri really thought that in the tarmac i would see african people dancing and chanting and thinking it would be a remake of tarzan. and of course it was not the case. and those moments where you feel that there is something wrong about the image of the world, the way they are giving it to you, i was of course very young. i didn't know what words to put in that, but i felt uneasy because i was confronting like a wall, something that has -- i had no explanation for. and it took a few years more where i started to have this ambivalent relationship with the dominant cinema, which is american cinema, and baldwin was
somehow the first one who gave me some sort of structure in order to understand what was going on. and that film is not innocent. film is carrying a lot of ideology. it's carrying and forging that. not only of the rest of the world, but also of yourself. you know, as a young man, i didn't have much examples where i could feel well, this is me. and even though -- even when there was, like guess who comes to dinner, i remember very vividly that somehow, of course, i was proud as a young man to see this handsome man who speaks english well, who, you know, has the right moves, knows thousand drink coffee and to be polite -- >> and from the islands like you. >> of course. bahamas. >> yes. >> and we have, you know, the same kind of education, how to behave, and you know, surgeon, a doctor who works for an
international organization and we were proud to see this man on the screen. at this same time, there was something strange because in fact when we didn't realize is that they were giving a model for us. until you can equal this, you know you have no place in the game. >> the model negro. >> yeah, yeah, yeah. people don't know, baldwin wasn't one of the greatest film critics. he did a sentimental job in basically deconstructing hollywood. you know, and i have film critic who, you know, have been interviewing me and telling me, you know, i will never be able to watch it the same way again. because you get used to that. and if you have no reason to question what you are seeing you
just swallow it. and you don't even aware what have you are also swallowing. >> let me ask you, i policied i would, some questions if i can, raul, about the way you did this. because to me what makes it so brilliant is i have never seen a film from beginning to end that are only the words of the subject. every word in this film is baldwins. tell me why that became your frame number one and number two, how you went about finding all of this footage that could tell the story. and when you placed it and pieced it, it was beautiful to watch the way you laid all of that out. to make it a narrative with a through line. >> well, there are no secrets. first of all, i knew that this film was the impossible film. you know, to decide from the get go, stick to baldwin words, nothing else. >> no talking heads, no
interviews. it's all gone. >> exactly. >> to confront the audience directly with the baldwin words and to confront baldwin with that, without interpreters. and i know that was complicated, i knew that also i would need a voice. and that's where the jackson voice comes into play. and so with e had a great team of researchers who work on that, but also something that was important too because he was speaking about stuff that i knew i grew up in. so i had to add all of my own methodology of 30 years of growing up with american cinema. and we would go through it and
start, you know, choosing clips and exchanging them, playing with them. and the thing with that kind of montage film is that you can't just illustrate words. you have to find a way that the clip itself means something that is symbolic say something. and also when you put the words with the clip, they compose something else and gives you a third level and that you can also change with the music or the on sense of music -- i work on this film as i would work on the narrative. as i would write a screen play. once i had the words, i know that was, you know, the fundamentals of everything, but then, that's where you're experience, your comes in and i also time. we needed time. i knew i had to produce this
film. always behind us and telling us go, just make the movie. don't worry about us. it's not about money. you know, normally that never happened. you know in the street. to have access to the whole body of work, you know, publish, unpublished material, photos, private plates. so i knew that with this, i better come up with a great film. you know, i had no choice. >> you mentions samuel jackson in the place where you don't hear baldwins words out of his own mouth, i shouldn't say reads -- >> he plays. >> yes. >> created a character. >> exactly. hose channels baldwin. and i raise that because i love samuel jackson been a guest a number of times. comedians are, we all know samuel jackson, we all know that yale thing that samuel jackson does, practically every field he's in. that yell thing he does.
and i -- because i have done my research and knew that samuel had done the voice, had i not done in it in advance to know that, i would never know that. i say that because you got something out of samuel jackson. the way he lays on that thing and he doesn't get in the way it's the most beautiful, powerful poignant thing i've ever heard samuel do in this way. marvelous job. >> he made it personal. you know, you know, that's the idea, you couldn't make any anything between the voice and baldwin. you know, it has to be raw, direct. >> and a flow to it. >> baldwin's voice is so distinct. when baldwin's voice is so distinct, that when you go from baldwin to samuel jackson, i expect the disconnect. it didn't break that thing for me. >> because he caught the soul of
baldwin. it was not about him. it was about how do you catch the soul of this man. you know, we knew both that it was about coming from your guts. you know, and you have to stick to that. and to have the humbleness to submit to those words. as a film maker, i put myself behind. i push baldwin in front. >> and when you're in the edit room and you're looking at all thoof this footage on the screen how did you not get chill bumps listening to what baldwin was saying there editing it in realtime for all what have he was saying was as relevant then as it is today? >> that's the craziness of this
project. first where i started it because i felt that that voice was necessary, was urgent, and the more we were working on it, it was beginning to be scary. sometimes we would look at each other, my editor and myself. >> that's not it. >> exactly. >> and you mix the pictures with it. so when ferguson happened, you know, you know, ut first day, second day, third day, i said my god, i need to send a crew there because something is happening. i don't what it is what it will be, symbolically, i think we need to be there. we did that. and then when those young man start to be killed, not that it started now, but we started having video about that. and that reality, it was -- i already had the words. you know the words were to say, those young men who have been killed at the age where they were too young to have done
anything. that phrase was there already. and to have now the pictures that goes with it, those pictures of young people, 12, 13, 16 being killed. so it was a very crazy situation throughout the editing. >> how would you -- i don't to want say compare, i'm not sure contrast is that much better, for lack of a better word, how would you contrast and i wrestle with this myself, how would you contrast reading baldwin on the page and seeing baldwin on the screen? like what what did you take differently from him on screen versus his words on paper? >> crazy enough, it's both. you know, i can't, you know, refer one to the other. both have their own quality when you see him on the screen, what you see is a man who is totally
dedicated to his thought. and it's not just a talking words, but his whole body is part of it. >> spiritual. >> his whole spirit, his whole human experience. and he does it in the very humanistic way. he's not -- it's rare, somebody who can look you in the eyes and tell you the truth. and at the same time, say, i love you. >> yeah. >> you know, it's hard to do and to say. and baldwin knew how to do that. you know, he never felt like he's insulted me. no, you felt i better listen because this man is really telling me something important. and his words, you know, my experience reading baldwin, you know, usually there are books where you start for some reason, you underline, you know, a paragraph or you underline, but with baldwin, you just start the whole book. exactly. >> yours must look like mine. everywhere, man. >> you can just take many peace. >> for me, i take your point i
asked that question because when i read baldwin on the page there is obviously a truth that he is telling that is unsettling, it is unhousing no matter how inconvenient it might be, it is so submersive sometimes people can't handle it. that's just reading on the page. what i saw him on your screen and your film was a boldness. something else to go on tv with a boldness to speak that truth. >> and seeing all these clips of him and seeing how boldly he would put that truth out there. >> and speak without any papers and telling, responding to question that you don't know today how you would spond in an intelligent way to this question, but not only he did but he gave you a lesson. he sends you back to do some more study. you know, and there are really rare people who capable to do
that. and the legacy he's giving us is incredible. and that's what i've a crime to let him slide away like he was beginning to slide away. and the idea of that film is to really make the ultimate film so that today, no school, no university cannot not have a cause. not teach baldwin as a classic and as an important part of this society. >> let me ask you, we've talked a around, let me go right to it now. the two and a half minutes that i have. what is baldwin saying to us in this present moment? >> well, he's saying to us many things, but one of the most important i think is he asks us to face a reality of being in denial. that nothing will change until we can face it. and we have a game in this country not to face reality.
we prefer to create two parallel worlds that never mix. you know, that's what we do with the image of doris day and gary cooper dancing and ray charles singing. you know, and we continue on and on and to make as if, you know, we have different set of heroes. and everything, you know, we give the black community something, we gave the native americans something, we gave women something, but we make sure that they are kept divided. and we have a president that is a phenomenal divider of this country. and we need to wake up and again build alliances, start to talk to each other in a real conversation and make sure that we come from the same history, we need to recognize this dream in built on two genocide. we can't even voice the word and baldwin did at a time where it
was dangerous to voice them. and today, we are like mesmerized, we are afraid to speak up our mind. there are very little space where we can have that kind of conversation. imagine, today, 2017, you know, people are fragile, they are insecure and they are afraid to speak up their mind, and as baldwin as far as i'm concerned as well, you know, we don't have time to take prisoners. we need now to move on with our life and confront it. and whoever we don't want to confront it, that's their problem. but we don't -- we can't be losing time and the young generation i think understood that. and i just hope that they have the wisdom and the long-term vision to know that the fight will be very long and it's just the kwin beginning. and there is no reason to be afraid today, whoever is president of this country. >> yeah, we'll leave it right there. he is a fine director, brilliant
documentary, and called i am not your negro. it is about the life and times of james baldwin, one of the most underappreciated writer of letters in the history of this country, but thing document just going to change all of that and james baldwin is about to undergo a significant and necessary renaissance. i'm homeownered to have you here. >> thank you very much. >> thank you. >> thanks for coming to see pus. >> thank you for inviting us. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. hi i'm tavis smiley, join me next time as we take a deep dive into what's happening around the country. that's next time. we'll see you then.
good evening from los angeles i'm tavis smiley, president donald trump has invited israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu to meet with him this month at the white house. on top of the drama, what's to come of our relationship with israel? can the u.s. be an honest broker in this conflict given the, controversial but unequivocal pro israeli tweets trump posted after his election. tonight then a conversation about the path forward first with activist and author and then rabbi, steve leader. glad you've joined us, a conversation about the israeli/palestinian conflict in the trump era coming right up.